Digital Materiality and Design Practice

This paper the ways in which designers interact with an assemblage of digital and material artifacts throughout the course of their everyday work. For example, emergent technology platforms for collaboration allow digital objects to be “dragged and dropped” onto a physical table using projection technology. Similarly, the world of product and interaction design offers a landscape of material objects embedded with digital information often referred to as the “internet of things.” These novel kinds of artifacts are hybrids that blur traditional dichotomies between discrete categories such as digital and physical and raise important philosophical questions about the relationship between these states of being. Furthermore, in the context of design work, material artifacts such as sticky notes are often rearranged, photographed and disseminated digitally, taking on different kinds of agency in the process. By employing theories about sociomateriality from organizational studies along with actor-network theory, we argue that these digital and material artifacts can be considered to be participating in networks of human and non-human actors that dynamically appear, disappear and reappear over time. As such, these artifacts perform different roles and take on different characteristics and forms, including physical, digital or hybrid, among networks of people, technologies and organizations engaged in design processes. Based on a two-year National Science Foundation funded study of collaboration with designers and design educators in four countries, we argue for a relational understanding of the nature of these artifacts that takes into account the roles that they play in the practice of design collaboration and the ways that they change over time.

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